By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran
When you think of elk hunting, it usually comes with thoughts of loud bugles and raging bulls. In many regions the elk are extremely vocal during the rut but they can also go silent. I hunt one area in Montana where the numbers are great but you wouldn’t know it by the sounds during rut season. It could be a response to predation or even other hunters, either way calling is not a productive tactic. The same applies pre and post rut. When calling is not an option, finding elk requires a little more leg work to get the job done.
Early and Late
Elk love to bed down in thick timber during the day, especially when hunting pressure is heavy. If you’re not hunting first and last light, you are missing the best times to locate elk. That doesn’t mean hiking out at dawn either. Hiking to a scouting point in the early morning darkness is often necessary so your glass hits the hillsides at dawn. If you catch a glimpse before they bed down, making a plan to stalk is possible. If you see them at last light, at least you know where the elk are moving to feed and you can revisit that zone at first light.
Glass, Glass and Glass
It should go without saying but get comfortable and glass until it hurts. Your binos and spotting scope are your best friends when the elk are quiet. Placing binos on a tripod and carrying a small padded chair makes it more bearable when you have a big country view worth watching for a few hours. Bring along warm clothes and some snacks for the long sits.
Pick Apart the Timber
Sometimes, you simply must tackle a steep, heavily timbered hillside on foot. It’s always a workout and is never guaranteed to produce but scouring the timber for sign is a great way to find clues about elk behavior in the area. I’ve struck out more times than I can count but have also ran right into elk tucked away in timber. The north facing slopes are especially great until the heavy snow flies. Some of the steepest looking hillsides will have tiers of semi-level ground between the really hard inclines. If you can find the well worn game trails in these areas that are used every year, you’ll have a good elk spot to hunt every year. You may also have located elk in an area overlooked by other hunters because they are silently navigating the thick timber, out of sight.